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3 Ways Savvy Managers are Using Technology

A person reaching toward an electronic grid with a node reading "NOI"

As management companies look to remain profitable in a lower-margin environment, technology can help.

For a lot of veteran apartment managers, technology can be a double-edged sword. Yes, it provides benefits with communication and marketing, but the pain of learning new systems and handling the flood of data coming at them, among other things, can often outweigh the advantages.

But Steve Hallsey, Director of Operations at Wood Partners, thinks technology has changed the business for the better, forcing the company to think more strategically about the customer experience and how it gives residents access to management and other services. 

“As a merchant builder, we are constantly looking at the latest innovation to add to our properties to differentiate them from competition,” Hallsey says. “The industry is in the middle of an ‘amenity war’ where companies are trying to one-up everyone else.  This has caused us to incorporate smart home technology like thermostats, keyless locks, package rooms and remote-control blinds. But technology doesn’t stop with the physical plant.”

Hallsey is right. Savvy managers have incorporated technology throughout their organization to help onsite teams, streamline back-office functions and even sell the value of their services. Here are the ways technology cuts costs and makes life easier:

Business Intelligence

Kettler is using a relatively new business intelligence unit to help sell owners on the value of its management company and the importance of hiring the best onsite talent. The unit computes things such as how more NOI can be had in a building by employing highly qualified, proven managers.

“There is a real disconnect between owners getting the lowest cost from their third-party contract and managers hiring people who are best for the job,” says Chief Executive Officer Bob Kettler. “Getting a management company that can run a community with 1.5-percent greater NOI, manage a capable sales staff, execute a strong lease-up, choose the right amenities and provide excellent customer service can squeeze $100,000 NOI out of a 300-unit project. That creates value for the owner.”

Village Green is using BI to better understand its to assemble and analyze data, develop dashboards with relevant metrics that allow it to recommend action plans to increase revenue and compress expenses.

“Our analyst department took our phone traffic for the entire company – dropped the data into Power BI and extracted resident phone traffic from prospect phone traffic, which allowed us to visually observe that a majority of our prospect phone traffic does not come in on Thursday through Sunday but actually Monday through Wednesday. That is the opposite of the traditional thought process of the apartment industry,” says Diane Batayeh, CEO of Village Green. “So, with that data, we are restructuring the sales office and staff schedules to accommodate the needs of our residents and prospects.”

Back Office Efficiency

WinnResidential is deploying cost-saving software, such as mobile maintenance technology, paperless hiring, apps that allow employees to access employment and payment information and video conferencing solutions that allow people to meet remotely versus in person.

“We are trying to find every opportunity to shave costs so we can make sure we have better margins,” says Patrick M. Appleby, President of WinnResidential.

FPI is also looking at back-office technology to trim costs and protect margins, including employing a peer-to-peer system that automates the electronic processing of paperwork.

“This frees up our accountants to handle more properties than they would have been able to previously,” says Dennis Treadaway, President and CEO of FPI Management. “Business Intelligence provides real-time in-depth property analytics on a macro and micro level, which helps us to evaluate properties more quickly and with more efficiency.”

Onsite Help

Wood Partners uses technology to save time onsite and make the leasing process more efficient. “Our offices are now driven with mobile technology, such as i-Pads, virtual tour apparatus, mobile apps for vendor services,” Hallsey says.  “The problem we face is figuring out which service is ‘best-in-class’ so that we don’t have change out technology every few years.”

Wood has a 12-person IT steering committee that hosts vendors and vets their technology solutions.

“The committee is made up of operations, IT, accounting, and marketing folks,” Hallsey says.  “After each demonstration the group then opines as to how the new product will create a process improvement, customer experience or create an operating efficiency.”

For more NOI Disaster Plan Series: How Fee Managers are Treating Margin Cuts.